Bangladesh Awami League: Crisis of Leadership?
Professor Abdul Mannan , শনিবার, জুন ২২, ২০১৩

On June 23 Bangladesh Awami League will be celebrating its 64th foundation day. On this day, sixty four years’ back in 1949 the party of the people (Awam) was created by such leaders as Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani (the first President of AL), Ataur Rahman Khan, Abdus Salam Khan, Shamsul Hoq (first General Secretary), Sk. Mujibur Rahman (he was in jail), Yar Mohammad and others. The party was created as Awami Muslim League, later the word ‘Muslim’ was dropped to give a secular character, an ideology for which the party still stands for. Most of the politicians who were involved with the forming of the new party were associated with the All Pakistan Muslim League (ML), the party that played the key role in the creation of Pakistan. However Muslim League was a party of the elites, the professionals, the landlords and the gentry and there were no place in the ML for the common people, the Awam, and their voice did not reach the leadership. So the Awam was given a place in the newly formed party. A year before the creation of Awami Muslim League, Mujib created Chattra League in 1948 the first student party in the post partition period, mainly to voice for the rights of the students. Today that Chattra League is in tatters. Awami League is the third oldest surviving party in the Sub-continent after Indian National Congress (INC) and Jamaat-e-Islam. Though Jamaat never could form a government individually in any of the three countries in the sub-continent the other two parties were in the government in India and Bangladesh. Jamaat, individually still do not command the support of more than 3% of the people in any of the countries they are active in. INC carved out the independent India through negotiation and Bangladesh was created through a nine months’ bloody War of Liberation in 1971 under the leadership of Bangladesh Awami League. Both INC and AL went through a phase of number of break-up attempts by some of its disgruntled elements, were out of state power on and off, but made a come back. After the brutal killing of Bangabandhu and his family on the dark night of August 15, 1971 Awami League was unofficially banned for quite a few years till it was revived in 1979 by some dedicated Awami League leaders like Abdul Malek Ukil, Dewan Farid Gazi, Sk. Abdul Aziz, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Abdus Samad Azad, Amir Hossain Amu, Tofail Ahmed and few others. However the party got the much needed boost once Sk. Hasina, one of the two surviving daughters of Bangabandhu returned in 1981from exile and took control of the party. She not only galvanized AL into a strong political force amidst extreme odds but also managed to lead the party to form the first AL lead government after twenty one years in 1996. This was perhaps single most important achievements of Sk. Hasina.
Throughout its existence AL went through many ups and downs, was forced to verge of extinction. Not only its supreme leader Bangabandhu was murdered with his family, about two and half a month later on another dark night of November 3, 1975 the four national leaders were killed inside the Dhaka central jail. If that was not enough, a number of attempts were made to assassinate the current President of Awami League, Sk. Hasina, the most brutal one being the August 21, 2004 grenade attack on her public rally in the Bangabandhu Avenue killing 23 of her party workers and leaders, including Ivy Rahman the wife of late Zillur Rahman who later on went to become the President of the Republic. So far the AL can be described like the mythical phoenix bird that is able to rise from the ashes of the ruins and fly again. In the general election of December, 2008 the party bagged more that three fourth seats in the parliament to go and form the government, marginalizing the previous elected government led by BNP-Jamaat alliance. As the current rule of AL lead government is coming to an end it is now time to assess its achievements and failures keeping its election manifesto in front.

One single achievement of the present government has been dismantling the militancy apparatus that used Bangladesh as a cocoon for breeding militants and religious terrorists. Achievement on this front has been acclaimed internationally. The perpetrators of 1971, the war criminals, have been brought to trial for the crimes they committed against humanity. When the world was going through a patch of economic recession in 2009-10 many pundits made a forecast that due this recession Bangladesh will be hard hit. But surprisingly Bangladesh is the only country besides Sri Lanka that has managed to keep its economic growth above 6% and drive the country towards self sufficiency in food production. During the 2008-9 fiscal year per capita income of Bangladesh was US$ 676 which now stands officially at US$923, though unofficially it is over US $1000. The country now has a foreign exchange reserve of over US$ 15 billion, 9 billion more when Sk. Hasina formed the government. Power supply has been one of the most vexing problems for the people in Bangladesh. Demand for power has always outstripped the supply and still continues to do so. In last four years the government has added about 3000 extra MW of electricity to the national grid bringing the total production to an average of 6200 MW against an increasing demand that currently stands at 7500 MW in summer. The government has already signed a deal to install a nuclear power plant with the help of Russian technology and financial assistance which once completed will be capable of producing 3000 MW of electricity. Along with the increase in the production of electricity the production of natural gas also have increased which now stands at 2297 million cubic meter daily which was about 1750 million cubic meter in 2008. Bangladesh has managed to successfully solve a long standing Bay of Bengal territorial water boundary dispute with Myanmar through international arbitration. Many would like to argue that the cost of living of people have increased drastically in the recent years. Though it is true, one should remember that under a globalized economic order it is not possible to maintain the cost of living at a desired level by any country individually, more so for Bangladesh, which still is an import dependent country. Cost of living has increased globally, including in all neighbouring countries. The UN report on, ‘Bangladesh Poverty Assessment’, declared recently that Bangladesh was on its way to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) in poverty alleviation in 2013 – two years ahead of the target. This is a no mean achievement.

After all these remarkable achievements of the current AL lead government however it is an irony that it failed to convince the voters across the country that it is a better alternative than any previous government. The AL candidates kept on performing miserably in most of the by-elections and the local body elections, the last one being the four city corporation elections. All these may have a far reaching affect for the country and the party unless the situation is brought under control on a war footing. If the question is what ails AL, the country’s largest political party with a glorious past, perhaps one single answer is that the party disappeared in the government after 2008 election victory. It has its constitutional committees but they all seem non-functional. This has resulted in creating self-destructing and self defeating inner party cliques and splinter groups whose unwarranted activities have caused immense damage to the image of the party. Sk. Hasina wears two hats, one of the Prime Minister and the other one of the party President. This at times has proved too stressful for her. The party does not have a Vice-president and the party’s all important General Secretary is viewed by many as a part timer. The Prime Minister experimented with many new bloods both in the government and in the party, but the performance of the most remains far from satisfactory. Bangabandhu realized that that being in the government is very temporary and the party is more important. A strong party can put it in the state power in course of time. In 1956 he resigned from the Provincial Government when he was given the option by the then party President Maulana Bhashani either to remain in the cabinet or as the party’s General Secretary. He opted for the later. In 1974 he made Qamruzzaman the party President with rank and status of a Minister, he himself just retaining the post of the Prime Minister of the country. He loved the party more than being in the government. He had vision, as did other leaders. Without vision a person cannot become a leader. Unfortunately today it is not true for most of our political ‘leaders.’ There is a crisis of visionary leadership in the AL. Political eadership is not one individual, but involves the contribution of a visionary team which is able to take the party into newer heights and destinations. A leader who is unable to rise above self is not capable of calling himself a visionary leader. After the miserable defeat in the last city corporation elections the defeated AL candidate of Barisal Showkat Hossain Hiron in a press conference blamed a party stalwart who played a key role in his defeat. Same goes true in other constituencies as well and the presence of such self destructive party stalwarts are present in most of the major cities and constituencies. The difference between the other major political party in the country the BNP, is that it too has such inner feuding leaders but they are capable of closing ranks when it comes to contesting against the AL which AL is seldom capable of doing. This is a major failure of the leadership. Currently AL and Sk. Hasina have become synonymous. This should not have happened. Sk. Hasina has risked her life for the party, given the party more than anyone expected. It is now high time that that her team realizes what lies ahead and shed their differences and exploits all the potentials of the party.
In the height of the American Civil War, the then US President Abraham Lincoln in a speech delivered on June 17, 1858, at the close of the Republican State Convention said ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ What was true for US in 1858 is truer today for Bangladesh Awami League, the party that gave the world a free country. Felicitations to all its workers and leaders on AL’s founding anniversary. May the days ahead be better.